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Sharing the night sky

Since the construction of Swan Field in 2008, users of Strawbridge Observatory and Swan Field have had to trade off their use of the telescopes and turf fields, respectively.

The stadium lights of Swan Field contribute significantly to night sky light pollution, which makes it hard to see even the brightest stars.

“With the light pollution you can only see moon and the […] objects right above you,” said astronomy major Maya Barlev ’12.

When the stadium lights shine onto Swan Fields during the dark winter months, the telescopes in Strawbridge are virtually unusable for astronomy classes and public observers.

“Because of [light pollution in] Philadelphia, the west is the dark park of the sky which, of course, is where the field is,” Astronomy professor Stephen Boughn said. According to Boughn, “maybe 15-20 nights out of every 40 that [they] try to observe during the semester,” the sky is too polluted with light, from the city on the east, and from the stadium lights on the west.

But Barlev points out, it is “like any other shared space on campus…it just means neither of us can have spontaneous events.”

Director of Athletics Wendy Smith and Athletic Facilities Manager Jim Kenyon coordinate use of Swan Field and Strawbridge observatory with Barlev and the other Astronomy student coordinator, Megan Bedell ‘12. Together they plan the use of the telescope so that sports teams can use the field without conflict.

But even with active and responsive coordination, Strawbridge Observatory may get the short end of the stick.

“We got our public observing schedule late last year, but Wendy Smith and Jim Kenyon were extremely responsive,” said Boughn.“The only problem, which I told Wendy, is that we plan observing for when the sky is clear, and then we can’t know that ahead of time.”

Between members of the public, two astronomy classes and students within the major,there is a lot of viewing to go around. And there is a lot of field time to share between lacrosse, soccer, and field hockey.

Although both the athletes and astronomers seem willing to share, Boughn recommends equipping Swan Field with low-pressure sodium light fixtures, which emit less light pollution and are high efficiency. Although there are no concrete plans for sodium lights on Swan field in the immediate future, the idea would certainty compliment Haverford’s new commitment to energy efficient design.

For more on green initiatives at Haverford:

For more on Swan Field:

Photo from Haverford College website







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